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Richardo Orozco

OAKLAND -- The only two officers disciplined in connection with the deadliest day in Oakland Police Department history have had their punishments overturned by an arbitrator, who found that department leaders had unfairly singled them out and failed to consider their own accountability.

Ricardo Orozco and Christopher Mufarreh were demoted two ranks for their role in the flawed March 21, 2009, SWAT operation against a parolee who hours earlier had shot two officers to death. Two members of the SWAT team also were killed by the parolee, Lovelle Mixon, when they stormed an East Oakland apartment building where he was hiding. Mixon was killed in the shootout.

In a 124-page ruling issued Thursday, arbitrator Paul Greenberg said the department's investigation into the incident was flawed and found that the discipline against Orozco and Mufarreh "has the appearance of the department needing to hold someone individually accountable ... but not considering the possibility that senior-level management decisions also contributed to the chain of events."

Greenberg's ruling raises fresh questions about police leadership's willingness to accept responsibility for operational failures. Rank-and-file concerns about whether the department's Internal Affairs Division protects senior leadership -- raised last year after the department proposed widespread punishments for the botched response to the first Occupy Oakland protest -- resurfaced last week when the division's former boss, Sean Whent, was promoted to police chief.

Michael Rains, who represented the disciplined officers in the arbitration hearing, said the internal affairs investigation, supervised by Whent, was "deceptive and dishonest."

"Again with the Oakland Police Department, they pointed the finger downward rather than having the intellectual honesty and integrity to say 'We failed at our level,'" Rains said.

Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki also had been faulted by the department's investigation into the shooting deaths of the four officers, but he retired before facing possible discipline.

Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said in a statement that "the department will comply with the decision and the commanders will be restored to their former positions."

Orozco, who had been demoted from the rank of captain to sergeant, will be restored to captain, and Mufarreh, who was demoted from lieutenant to officer, also will be restored to his former rank. The two will receive an estimated $300,000 combined in back pay lost to the demotions, Rains said.

The killing of four police officers -- Officer John Hege and Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans and Daniel Sakai -- continues to cast a pall over the department.

An independent committee blamed what it called an "ineffective and poorly managed" search for Mixon.

Mufarreh was faulted for taking operational control of a situation for which he was not properly trained and ignoring a tip from other officers that Mixon was likely inside the apartment building. Orozco was faulted for approving the SWAT team assault on the home without taking basic steps to contact Mixon by phone, evacuate neighbors or have an ambulance standing by in case of casualties.

Greenberg said there were "multiple command and control shortcomings" in the hunt for Mixon, starting with the fact that the top-ranking officer on duty that Saturday, Lt. Drennon Lindsey, had recently been promoted to the rank and had little tactical experience.

"Lt. Mufarreh 'stepped up to the plate' to assist Lt. Lindsey and assume responsibility for the search component of the crime investigation," Greenberg wrote, "and she concurred with Lt. Mufarreh's proposal that he take on this role."

Greenberg also noted that before the ill-fated raid against Mixon, several officers higher in rank than Mufarreh were nearby, including then-interim Chief Howard Jordan. Yet, none of them followed department protocol by taking over as the incident commander.

"If OPD is going to hold Lt. Mufarreh to a strict interpretation of the general orders when justifying its decision to demote him," Greenberg wrote, "then it is reasonable to question why other OPD personnel are not held to a similarly strict reading of the general orders."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.